A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it ain't half as much fun.
That's the lesson of our live-action modern age: nothing beats a well-crafted sound bite...except maybe an uncrafted sound bite, if it's deliciously candid enough. From Dan Quayle's "potatoe" faux pas to Mel Gibson's unique take on Semitic military history, the American public has a wicked appetite for iconic spontaneity—and athletes, of course, are hardly exempt. It's all about access, in the end; we want our jock heroes and we want them now, dammit, and if planting a camera on every sideline and a microphone in every face happens to yield an off-color quote every once in awhile—
All the better, Meat, because you gotta give the people what they pay for.
And so it's in that spirit that this week's Spot runs down the five most memorable hip-shots in sports history, a quintet of unscripted soliloquies that offer what can only be called a gaping window on the human id. Ad-libbed intimacy might not always be pretty, after all, but you can bet your last buck that it won't ever be anything but honest—and it seems like that's probably the point of our media jones in the first place: we want to know the world as it actually is, in the moment and off the record. Which isn't an altogether ignoble sentiment, when you really get down to it...and it might even lead to something good, given the chance—some sort of growth or progress or broad-based communal uplift—if only—
If only it weren't so much gosh-darned fun to watch famous people make asses of themselves...
Number Five: Tommy Lasorda on Dave Kingman's "Performance"
The scene: the Dodgers clubhouse, shortly after a 1978 loss to Chicago in which Cubs first baseman Dave Kingman hit three home runs. The question: "What's your opinion of Kingman's performance?", posed by reporter Paul Olden to manager Tommy Lasorda. The result: a diatribe that would have made Sam Kinison blush, with more f-bombs than the FCC could bleep a buzzer at. To wit: "Opinion of his performance!? (Expletive deleted), he beat us with three (expletive deleted) home runs! What the (expletive deleted) do you mean, "What is my opinion of his performance?" How could you ask me a question like that, "What is my opinion of his performance?" (Expletive deleted), he hit three home runs! (Expletive deleted)! I'm (expletive deleted) pissed off to lose that (expletive deleted) game! And you ask me my opinion of his performance! (Expletive deleted). That's a tough question to ask me, isn't it?" Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed when an enterprising member of the Dodgers' kitchen staff managed to placate Lasorda with a plastic garbage bag full of linguine and clams. Mangiate, Tommy, mangiate. It's all gonna be okay...
Number Four: Joe Namath on Suzy Kolber's "Kiss"-ability
Not since Dallas 1963 had the Baby Boom generation been so traumatized by an idol's nationally televised downfall: Joe Willie—the Joe Willie—blitzed on the sidelines at a 2003 Jets game, slurring his words and dropping a clumsy "I want to kiss you" on...Suzy Kolber? Say it ain't so, Joe—for godsakes, say it ain't so. It was an after-school-special sort of moment, really, a Technicolor lesson in the tragedy of alcoholism and the perils of beer gogglery, and sports fans across the country breathed a sigh of relief when Namath checked himself into rehab the next month. Unbeknownst to many well-wishers, though, the story had another, less widely reported happy ending: after the game, the erstwhile Prince of Manhattan took Kolber back to his hotel room and ravaged her into the wee hours of the morning. He might be a lush, but hey—he's still Joe freakin' Namath.
Number Three: Allen Iverson on "Practice"
Just to clarify, the topic up for discussion at AI's oft-quoted press conference was, indeed, practice. Not a game: practice. Practice. Coming shortly after the Sixers had been bounced from the 2002 playoffs, the emotional monologue was the Answer's answer to coach Larry Brown's assertion that his sparse attendance at—you guessed it—practice had been detrimental to the team's postseason play. Although the two men would later resolve their differences (remember Iverson getting all verklempt on Quite Frankly with Stephen A?), their spat epitomized what many observers believed to be an impassable generation gap in the NBA: the young thugs with their gaudy bling and selfish 'tudes aligned against an old guard of virtuous, principled coaches. As for Brown's subsequent desertion of his post with the Detroit Pistons in 2005, well—we only talking 'bout a contract, right?...
Number Two: Jim Mora on the "Playoffs"
Say it in your best seagull squawk, Meat: Playoffs? Mora's self-effacing rant—which followed a 40-21 Colt loss to the 49ers in 2001—has become a curious part of the NFL's oral tradition, a sort of oddball counterpoint to the eloquent aphorisms of men like Vince Lombardi. Sure, it might be true, in the words of that most cherished Cheesehead, that a man's greatest hour comes when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious...but it's equally true that every man must ultimately come to recognize the fallibility of his own mortal being, and the often dour realities associated therewith. Enter, of course, Mora, and his unflinchingly honest take on the state of his team: "Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game." Somewhere, perhaps, Lombardi was nodding along in beatific agreement.
Number One: Mike Tyson on "Bolivia"
We thought we'd seen it all from Iron Mike. The facial tattoos, the proto-cannibalism, the halfway-credible threats to devour young children—there wasn't a stunt Tyson hadn't pulled, or a line he hadn't crossed; after turning his career into a protracted train wreck, the ex-champ seemed to have run clean out of shock value. And then, of course, there was the pitiful loss to Lennox Lewis in 2002...and the startling interview that followed it, in which Mike was, well—serene would probably have to be the word. "I don't know what I'm going to do now," Tyson told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. "I might just fade into Bolivia." Evo Morales jokes aside, the scene was most remarkable for what it wasn't: crazy. The world wasn't ready for a docile, pensive Tyson; we were expecting histrionics and we ended up, instead, with humanity, and the implications—for him and for us—ran deeper than we cared to follow. Thankfully, the baddest man on the planet has since recovered his old form as a freak-for-hire at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, which, well—
If nothing else, you've got to admit that it beats running an illicit coca operation in the foothills of the Andes. Or working for Don King, for that matter...